The devil cleans up Hell’s Kitchen
With Marvel rolling out their Netflix shows, it may be worth revisiting its first series.
With Marvel’s Netflix offerings well and truly underway, the studio is showing no signs of slowing down. Having recently launched the first seasons of The Punisher and The Defenders, the House of Ideas also has plans for Season 2 of Jessica Jones and Season 3 of Daredevil.
For Marvel, the latter show is where their Netflix offerings began. The show is also well worth rewatching. For those yet to see it, there is plenty of depth on offer.
Daredevil follows Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a blind lawyer who fights to defend Hell’s Kitchen as the titular masked superhero. For Murdock, fighting for justice in the courtroom gives way to battles in the city streets at night. The city in many ways made him who he is. In his role as the city’s defender, Murdock inevitably clashes with Wilson Fisk, a mysterious criminal mind has plans to transform (and gentrify) Hell’s Kitchen and is willing to step on anyone that would get in his way.
Daredevil’s theological themes are never far below the surface. As superheroes go, the character has a long established history as a Catholic protagonist with a penchant for religious iconography. Several Marvel writers have done interesting things with this aspect of the character’s backstory, including Kevin Smith and Brian Michael Bendis, and the Netflix show continues in this vein. When Murdock takes confession, the paradox of a man who dresses as the devil to beat criminals to a bloody pulp is only the beginning of the discussion. The dynamic between these two characters is an interesting one, and the show’s writers have done well to ensure the priest character is not the usual religious caricature that many shows depict.
A daring cast
Much of the Daredevil’s success is due to its cast, who manage to elevate the material. Cox is strong as Murdock, both in being believable as a blind character and in bringing gravitas to the action scenes. One of the show’s highlights is the interplay between Murdock and Foggy Nelson, his partner in the legal firm. Nelson (played by Elden Henson) adds a good deal of levity to the proceedings.
Over the course of season one and two, viewers see Wilson Fisk transform into The Kingpin. Played with finesse by Vincent D’Onofrio, Fisk is a traumatised individual with a violent family history. D’Onofrio manages to make Fisk ever so slightly sympathetic and to succeed at dashing this sympathy with his brutality.
Deborah Anne Woll rounds out the cast as Karen Paige. While Paige is saved by Daredevil early on, hers is not a damsel in distress character. In an interview, Woll noted that she wanted to play the character as a risk taker.
“In the comic books, in the beginning Karen is very innocent, and then towards the end she’s really swung a full 180, she’s in a lot of trouble, so I wanted to find a way to make her both of those things at the same time,” she said.
“Can she be a really wonderful, kind person who is a little bit attracted to danger? She’s not just always getting into trouble because ‘Oh, silly woman!’ Karen is actually looking for it, and she won’t let her fear stop her from finding the truth”
When Daredevil debuted in 2015, critics contended that the show’s action sequences were the highlight. Eschewing flash, the fight scenes are relatively realistically choreographed, with Daredevil moving like a martial artist. This sets the show apart from Marvel’s other fare. The first season has a number of memorable action sequences, including a famous long tracking shot that follows Daredevil during a brutal fight through a hallway.
Daredevil’s brutal violence may be off-putting for some viewers. While there is little that can be faulted, it is worth noting that there are moments where an otherwise strong script has the kinds of clichés that are endemic to the superhero genre. The show’s visuals are also too dark at points, an intentional visual choice that sometimes makes the excellent action more difficult to follow than need be.
Seasons one and two of Daredevil are currently streaming on Netflix
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor